Granderson ready to carry success to October
MVP candidate's year recalls shades of Reggie decades ago
More than 30 summers have passed since Reggie Jackson's last active Yankees cards were sealed into wax packs with their powdery gum neighbors, but there may be an interesting flashback developing in the Bronx.
Flip one of those collectible treasures, depicting Mr. October in all his big-swinging Bombers glory, and scribble in Curtis Granderson's stats line from this season. Believe it or not, they'd fit right in.
There are no guarantees, but as he enjoys a huge second season in pinstripes that vaulted his name into MVP chatter, Granderson can only hope that bodes well for what may await when the calendar changes months.
"I think it was just a matter of getting comfortable," Granderson said. "Whenever you aren't getting the results you want to, you've got to figure out how to get them."
In Granderson's case, that traces back to a steamy Texas afternoon, when hitting coach Kevin Long eliminated parts of the centerfielder's swing and gave birth to one of this year's top power threats.
Since Aug. 14, 2010, only the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista has cleared the walls around the big leagues more regularly than Granderson, who shrugs and insists that it's a "fluke" that he resides in that neighborhood.
"I always make the comparison to basketball and golf," Granderson said. "Sometimes you have the feel, sometimes you don't."
From the glossy side of that vintage Topps card, Reggie would be scoffing behind his dark aviators. No one would ever accuse them of being interchangeable personalities, but Jackson glances at Granderson and sees a player primed for more greatness ahead.
"He fits. In that spotlight, he fits in the position he's in now, hitting 40 home runs and driving in 115 or 120 [runs]," Jackson said, stopping to marvel as Granderson takes another long whack during batting practice.
"He seems like he's hitting a very hard .270. It just seems like he's hitting .290 to me," the Hall of Famer added. "I've been around the game long enough to know; he's hitting a very, very hard .270. He's been one hell of a player; I think better than I thought."
Jackson had mixed feelings with Granderson's import; he had grown personally involved with the development of young Austin Jackson, who was dealt to the Tigers in the three-way trade that brought Granderson to New York.
The Yankees' thinking was that Granderson was already the polished product of Austin Jackson's potential, and that they were getting a sure thing in exchange for what might be. No one would edit that deal now.
"When you turn yourself into one of the top 10 players in the Major Leagues," Long said of Granderson, "you've done some work."
Granderson promised he wasn't going to be fazed by the magnitude of New York, not after growing up in Chicago and going as far as the World Series in Detroit. Former Tigers teammate Brandon Inge figured this was coming.
"He likes the attention and the pressure," Inge said. "That's his personality and how he works. He's always on the go, so New York fits him well. That's why I think he's better, because of the lifestyle."
But Jackson said he saw a couple of moments behind the scenes where that may not exactly have been the case.
"I think he had some nervousness, some discomfort coming here in his first year," Jackson said. "It's a big spotlight here. He's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, a wonderful man, so it's enjoyable to see the success that he's had. It's a different place for him. He's not a New York person, but he fits in."
Part of that is thanks to a deep roster that still permits Granderson some measure of flying under the radar. Reminded that he started the year with Granderson batting eighth, manager Joe Girardi quipped, "What was I thinking?"
But Girardi had no way to know Granderson's troubles with left-handed pitching were dissolving, that he'd leg out a pile of very un-Reggie-like triples, that he'd lead the Majors in runs scored and reach double digits in doubles, homers and steals (while also putting up a very-Reggie like strikeout total).
"It's incredible what he's done this year," Girardi said. "There's been a lot of talk about MVP, and he's been unbelievable for us."
Yet, can Granderson bring home a MVP if he's not the most dominant force on the team? Granderson suggests that he's not the player that the scouting reports focus on, naming Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez as alternates.
"I don't think so, especially considering who's coming up after me," Granderson said. "Tex, Cano and Alex. I definitely don't think it's that they want to avoid me to get to the next guy because those guys are definitely doing some damage too."
Jackson ups the ante, volunteering no one has seemed more valuable than the Tigers' Justin Verlander.
"Does Detroit get there without Verlander? Absolutely no way. No way possible," Jackson said.
It makes a good debate, and the fact such a chat can even be had is a terrific sign for the Yankees. About 365 days ago, Granderson was being asked if the postseason could rescue his disappointing year.
Now, Granderson seems ready to embrace the bright lights of the postseason. With plenty of help in a potent lineup, he just might be able to carve his name into a few nights of the October calendar.
"When we finish and it's all said and done, that's the conversation you want to be involved in," Granderson said.